Music therapy has been a profession since World War I, when musicians would go to veterans' hospitals and play for the wounded patients, says Leanne Belasco, director of music therapy at Levine Music.
"The doctors and nurses observed there was a real positive change that came about from the presence of musicians with the patients," Belasco says.
Emma plays the drums while therapist Katie Myers sings on the guitar. The two are making music, but they're also working on speech and motor skills. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Since then, the profession has grown immensely, and its application has expanded to help people in all stages of life -- from premature infants to patients in hospice, from children on the autism spectrum to adults who have suffered a stroke.
Al Bumanis, director of communications for the American Music Therapy Association, estimates that 1 to 2 million people seek music therapy as a treatment tool to address non-musical goals each year; 73 colleges and universities offer music therapy as a degree program.
How does music help patients with a wide range of diagnoses and needs? Bumanis says music works as a vehicle to deliver treatment exercises patients need to progress.
For Emma, Myers uses a drum, one of Emma's favorite instruments, to prompt Emma to say words on beat. Speech is a main focus of Emma's therapy.
When it's time for Emma to work on fine-motor skills, such as moving her fingers quickly and individually, Myers has Emma "tickle" the drum or play the piano.